Oxford

Changes to worsen Oxford's housing crisis

  • 14 November 2011
  • From the section Oxford

Oxford's housing shortage means that five to 10 households are being placed in emergency accommodation like hotels at any one time, council chiefs said.

There are also 6,000 people on the city council's housing waiting list and 165 more in temporary accommodation.

A council spokesman said it sometimes used hotels "when nothing else is available" and "minimised" their usage.

He said the average stay in properties that charged by the night was about a week.

The council said the situation was being made worse by landlords refusing to take on tenants claiming housing benefit.

Since 2010, the number of places available to homeless families in the city has halved and the government has reduced the amount of benefits it pays.

Matt Brain and his partner spent a week living in a Travelodge with their two-month-old baby daughter, Jessica.

'Chronic and acute'

He said: "We were staying at my partner's mum's and it was just a bit overcrowded. We had an argument and it all came to a head and she asked us to leave and this is where Oxford City Council put us."

Head of strategic housing at the council, Graham Stratford, said: "The housing crisis in Oxford is both chronic and acute.

"We have massive housing need, not enough social housing and a private rental sector that's becoming unaffordable because of changes to housing benefit."

The chronic housing shortage in Oxford means hotels have to be used on a short-term basis

Housing benefit is a government payment made to those who cannot afford to pay their rent. It is available, subject to a means test, to tenants of both private and social landlords.

Claimants include low-paid workers, unemployed jobseekers, low-income pensioners and economically-inactive adults, such as those who class as being long-term sick, disabled people and full-time unpaid carers.

The maximum amount of benefit that a person can claim in a certain area is set at the median average of a sample of rents in that area.

However, the area which includes Oxford also encompasses about a third of the county, where rents are considerably lower.

Welfare officers said that meant it had already been difficult for benefit claimants in Oxford to cover their rent, but in April further reductions began to be phased in.

Now, rather than the amount of benefit being based on the median of rents in the area - or the "50th percentile" - it is set at the 30th percentile, meaning it is calculated on the basis of cheaper rents.

Paul Wilding, benefits manager at Oxford City Council, said: "Benefits don't come anywhere near what Oxford landlords would expect to get from their properties.

"They are going to turn their backs on housing benefit claimants and we are already seeing that. The landlords just aren't taking them on."

The problems could be made even worse in January when about 120, predominately single, men are forced to leave their accommodation when the government reduces the amount it pays to single people under the age of 35.

'Realistic figure'

For these individuals without families, the council is unlikely to provide a place in a hotel and they could end up in the homeless shelter or having to leave the area.

The council say the private rental sector in Oxford is becoming unaffordable

While Oxford's problems are fairly unusual, other cities with high student populations like Cambridge, York and Exeter have had similar issues.

Mr Wilding said the council had made representations to the minister for welfare reform, Lord Freud, through local MPs Andrew Smith and Nicola Blackwood.

"The proposal we went with was to set benefit rates based on the local authority area so it's a more realistic figure. Even with the recent changes many more properties would be affordable," added Mr Wilding.

In September, a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "People in the most vulnerable situations will remain exempt, and those not exempt can be considered for extra help from the additional £130m being made available to local authorities to help smooth the transition of the housing benefit changes."

You can find out more about Oxford's housing crisis by watching Inside Out on BBC One South on Monday at 19:30 GMT.

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